13 May 2019

Looking for Joy


Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth,
think of the Lord in goodness
and seek him with sincerity of heart;
~Wisdom 1:1

My mother passed away in 2018* and her funeral was held this time last year. There have been parts of the last year that have been difficult; however, both my parents taught me excellent lessons about both living in the now and not dwelling on a past I can't change. I've done my best to use those lessons.

After the funeral (during the time I was recovering from helping Dad care for Mom) I found myself flashing back to the last few days and remembering Mom in ways that she would not want. Soon, I realized that, if I let this continue, those images would wear a track into my mind and permanently become the first thing that would spring to mind when I remembered my mom.

I didn't want that. 

I was very lucky to have had a good relationship with my mom. We had our differences, but anything major had been ironed out years ago. We had gone on several adventures together to see the world in addition to our more mundane visits to each other.

To help push my many years of good memories to the forefront of my mind, I chose to redirect my thoughts each time one of the sad memories cropped up.

To help me, I kept the slide show of moments with my family (that included mom) on my computer instead of removing it because it might make me sad. That way I saw her every day in ways she would want to be remembered: healthy and enjoying life.

It was difficult, at first, to catch myself when I was tumbling down a sad path of remembrance; but, as the year went on, I got better at it. Just last week a photo of my mom, dad, and kiddo, together and smiling, cycled up on my laptop screen and I found myself spontaneously smiling at the image. 

I am very glad that I made the choice to set aside the hard, sad, and scary memories of Mom's last week and, instead, turn my focus to moments from our various travels together; or moments from my childhood; or to quiet moments sitting on the couch together with a baseball game on while we both worked (or goofed off on) our computers.

This choice** served me in two ways. One: it strengthened the good, loving, and joyful memories I have of my mom. Two: it weakened and caused to fade, many of those sad and difficult memories from her last few weeks. Some of those memories I havechosen to keep. Those few are small treasures that am glad to look at occasionally. The rest have mostly faded into hazy recollections, and that is fine with me.

There is a lot in my life that I have no control over; but I can, in part,  choose which of my memories to reinforce and which to let fade away. 

I can, in short, look for joy.

Do not invite death by the error of your life,
            or bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
            and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
            the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
            and there is no destructive poison in them,
            and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
~Wisdom 1:12-14


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*My essay from that time last year: Come, Thou

**Note: If you are dealing with grief or any other overwhelming emotion and simple things like getting a good night's sleep or doing something distracting don't help you regain your equilibrium, please consider meeting with your doctor and seeing if therapy or other mental health treatment is necessary.  We have adopted the saying in our family: "If you can't make your own neurotransmitters, store bought is fine." So if mediation, redirecting thoughts, getting enough sleep (and enough water) don't help, see if your doctor or therapist can.


04 May 2019

Adventures in Phở

This week I am at the Oregon Coast spending time with my dad. I very much enjoy getting to hang out with him and just be a part of his routine. The big highlight of our day is usually walking into town to get the mail.

When I am visiting, I try to cook a few of the evening meals to give Dad a break from cooking for himself. He's vegetarian, but very easy to cook for, because his favorite food is meals that other people have cooked andhe's willing to eat leftovers for several nights in a row.

I'm not as easy to cook for as he is because I have a long list of foods that I can't tolerate well. Top of the list are onion and garlic. Since onion and garlic form the base for most savory vegetarian food it gets a bit tricky to cook savory dishes that we can both enjoy.

When I first figured out that onion and garlic were not good for me, it was very stressful. I was super-sensitive to minute quantities, which meant that I had to avoid almost all pre-packaged savory food. 

I wasn't much of a cook at that point in my life. I had about three dishes I could make, and I tended to set fire to things accidentally, or make a major spice errors so my food was inedible.

I started to get interested in cooking, partly in self-defense, partly because I took it into my head that I shouldbe able to cook and the only way to become a good cook would be to get cooking. It helped a lot that my roommate came up with a way to create the savory flavor of onion and garlic that I could use as a replacement in many dishes.

We have a saying in our house: "It goes faster if you start." It comes from working on craft projects. There is only so much thinking and planning one can do, eventually one needs to start work for the project ever to be finished.

Once I started cooking, I never looked back. Cooking confidence led, in turn, to baking. After years of trying to get bread to rise and learning to watch my bakes so as not to set fire to the oven, I can now reliably bake bread and pastries. I have even developed a sense of timing and can wander off and do other things and come back to the oven just as the timer is about to go off.

All of this work has given me the ability to look a recipes and plan how to alter them so as to get results that not only I can eat (because they cater to my own limitations) but that taste good to other people.

So this week, my dad mentioned liking Vietnamese Phở and I was inspired to come up with a recipe that was both vegetarian and onion/garlic/ginger free. After reviewing several recipes on-line, I made a list of ingredients and substitutions, went grocery shopping, and spent the next several hours cooking. 

Dad and I had the final result for dinner, and it was very tasty. I don't know that it is anything like real Phở, but it is at least Phở adjacent.

While I was working on the various steps to make the Phở broth, I thought about how impossible a task this would have been for me ten years ago. What is easy for me now, would have been overwhelmingly complicated for me then.

However, if my past-self hadn't suddenly decided that cooking as A Thing I Should Know, I wouldn't have the skills I do today to alter a recipe on the fly and have the result be edible. 

Every journey starts with a single step and every project (learning skills included) goes faster if you start.

The thing I have found myself saying most often in my life is: "Why didn't I do X sooner?" There is almost no example of a project, skill, or activity that I wish I had postponed starting for a longer time.  Once I made the transition from thinking about the idea to actually doing the work, I more often wished I had gotten started sooner.

Everyone is different and at different stages in life. However, in my experience, time waits for no one. Procrastination is frequently fear in disguise, but my fears come true so rarely that I'm really trying to learn not to listen to those fears.

If I had put off learning to cook because I got discouraged at how often I set off the smoke detector or made inedible spice choices or because I feared that no one would everlike my food; I wouldn't be where I am today, having fun adventures in Phở.